WRU staff 'hopeful' but 'tired' after difficult year following misogyny and sexism report

  • Abi Tierney was one of several WRU leaders who faced the Senedd's Culture and Sport Committee on Wednesday morning.

The new Chief Executive Officer of the Welsh Rugby Union has said that staff at the organisation feel both hopeful for change but tired after a bruising year.

At the same time another senior WRU figure said the union had “failed to join the dots” in identifying that a toxic culture had taken hold.

Leaders of the WRU have been facing questions from Senedd Members on the Culture and Sport Committee following a damning review of the WRU published last November which revealed a widespread culture of misogyny and sexism.

Among some of the evidence included in that report was that a WRU representative had expressed views that 'men are the master race' and how there was gossip about how a female manager had 'slept her way' to a job.

Abi Tierney is the WRU's first appointed female Chief Executive Officer. Credit: WRU

Other information revealed how slurs about women in same sex relationships were thrown around the organisation.

There has been significant change in the way the WRU is run. A new board has been established and Abi Tierney has taken over as Chief Executive Officer.

Asked how she summarised staff morale as someone who has joined relatively recently she said that “if I can use a few words to describe what I've seen and felt, I think ‘hope’ is one of them.

She said: "I think people are really hopeful that the changes … and the review that we've gone through will enable them to draw a line and move forward in a really positive way. So there's a real sense of hope and looking forward.

“But I think that is balanced with a real sense of tiredness and they went through a lot last year.”

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WRU Chair Richard Collier-Keywood told the Senedd members, “I think that we have learnt from what we've both read in the report and what we have heard as we've talked to different members of staff.”

He also said that all the members of the new board “are absolutely committed to seeing a new culture, both in the WRU itself and in the clubs and on the field in terms of where we play rugby.”

Also giving evidence to the committee, Nigel Walker, who’s Executive Director of Rugby at the WRU and who stood in as interim CEO during the crisis said that the main mistake leaders had made previously was not to realise how widespread the toxic culture was.

He acknowledged that “the union had failed to join the dots. There were a number of individual incidents and they remained as individual incidents, and we didn't bring them together.

Interim CEO of the WRU, Nigel Walker, says his organisations needs to listen better.

“I think some of our policies and processes were not fit for purpose. And I think the fact that we have appointed a director of people has helped in that regard.

“I think when you've had - and what happened 12 months ago was more than a warning - when you have a television programme, which lays bare the ills of an organisation all in 30 minutes, you will be rather foolish not to take heed and to sense-check that the changes which have been made in the previous 12 months … just to sense-check that the things that went wrong before could not happen again.

“And then there are many things that we have done: a whistleblowing helpline, giving our staff more confidence in being able to speak up and us demonstrating that we're prepared to listen - there are a whole raft of things.

“But I think to bring it down to one thing, it was not joining the dots when there were a series of incidents over a period of time … and not bringing those things together and saying we've got a problem here. How can we address that problem?”

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